Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
Each of the 100 counties in North Carolina has its own court system, although all are linked and subject to state AOC and the appellate courts. Each county court system includes a superior and district court division. Superior Court judges rotate around counties near their home county on a multi-month basis. A single judge is not assigned to one matter from beginning to end, unless the case is exceptional. The state’s highest court is the Supreme Court of North Carolina, where seven justices sit as a body and decide cases appealed from the lower courts and the single intermediate appellate court, the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The North Carolina Court of Appeals has 15 judges, who sit in panels of three to hear appeals from the county courts.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Superior courts in North Carolina hear civil matters where the amount-in-controversy exceeds $25,000 and appeals from the district courts. North Carolina’s district court division consists of district court and magistrate judges. The magistrates usually preside over “small claims” civil disputes for claims less than $10,000. District court judges generally hear civil matters when the disputed amount ranges between $10,000 and $25,000.
The North Carolina Business Court was established in 1996 as a specialized forum of the superior court division. The North Carolina Business Court presides over civil matters, which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina has designated as a “mandatory complex business case” that involves significant issues of corporate and commercial law pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-45.4. There are currently five North Carolina Business Court judges, who preside in four cities across the state.
North Carolina General Statute § 7A-38.1 authorizes court-ordered mediation in any civil matter. Mandatory mediation is routinely ordered in automobile negligence actions, contract actions, other business disputes, malpractice cases, and construction defect cases. On January 23, 2020, the Supreme Court of North Carolina adopted the Rules for Mediated Settlement Conferences and Other Settlement Procedures in Superior Court Civil Actions, which became effective on March 1, 2020 and superseded the previously controlling Revised Rules Implementing Statewide Mediated Settlement Conferences and Other Settlement Procedures in Superior Court Civil actions.
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